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Thomas Meinecke’s German Fictions of Multicultural America: Model or Admonition?


The end of the Cold War accelerated changes in the demographics of Germany that had been taking place in spurts since its founding: the settlement of Aussiedler from the East increased with the demise of the USSR, conflicts in the Balkans and in developing nations released new waves of refugees, and the descendants of Gastarbeiter from the early 1960s onward began to play a more visible role in German society and politics. As land of origin for the term “multicultural,” the United States presented a possible model for unified Germany as it contemplated a possible new identity as “Einwanderungsland. ” Writer, pop musician, and disc jockey Thomas Meinecke, attuned to American music, has written two novels set in the US that emphasize its legacy as an Einwanderungsland while rejecting the idea of the American melting pot. His two novels set in the US, the comic picaresque The Church of John F. Kennedy (1996) and his formless multi-narrator novel Hellblau (2001) both implement concepts from cultural studies theory to examine dimensions of the American multicultural society from the perspective of disillusioned post-unification Germans. Moving off the beaten path both in their contemporary travel and in their historical research, these German characters encounter a wide range of distinct ethnic heritages in the US that move between mutual hostility and productive cross-fertilization. Rather than a melting pot, the US presents itself as a jumbled conglomeration of continuously evolving hybrids generating a rich culture--especially in music-- but a frayed socio-economic fabric. German stereotypes of the US as a materialistic land without culture give way here to an image of a country that has generated new forms of culture through the interaction of various ethnic groups. Meinecke’s view of the US explores the trade-off between the dynamism of a fissured and fragmented pluralistic society and the stability of a homogeneous society in which one ethnic tradition clearly prevails. His novels thus anticipate the controversies emerging in the late twentieth century in both Germany and the US about the relative merits of a “Leitkultur” or a dominant “core culture” versus a heterogeneous multiculture.

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